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Obama launches public relations blitz on economy

With a dose of populism, a nod to Hollywood and a prime time press conference, Barack Obama is deploying every weapon in the presidential armory to bolster his economic rescue strategy.

world Updated: Mar 19, 2009 12:30 IST

With a dose of populism, a nod to Hollywood and a prime time press conference, Barack Obama is deploying every weapon in the presidential armory to bolster his economic rescue strategy.

After enduring a grilling over the multi-million dollar bonus binge by bailed-out AIG, the president climbed aboard Air Force One on Wednesday and left Washington's febrile atmosphere behind and headed to the open west.

"We love you," shouted a supporter at a steamy indoor rally in California, recalling the heady campaign-trail days when Obama preached hope and change, before he won power and the poison chalice of the devastated US economy.

The president's beating over AIG and a wave of criticism over his yet-to-be rolled-out banking rescue, as well as the need to sell his mammoth 3.55 trillion dollar reform budget, mean a top up of political capital is required.

So Obama put himself figuratively on the side of the people against Wall Street and Washington, in California, where unemployment has shot-up to 10 percent, and his economic stimulus plan is under pressure to save the day.

On an overnight trip, the president had two town hall meetings planned, as well as a spot awaiting on Thursday on the couch of late night "Tonight Show" host Jay Leno, which is normally the haunt of Hollywood royalty.

Next Tuesday, the president will crank his campaign up another notch with a prime time televised press conference, likely to be dominated by his plans to simultaneously punish Wall Street, but save the US finance industry.

First stop on Wednesday was Orange County, California, which lost a staggering 33,000 jobs between December and January, and saw more than 750 mortgage foreclosures in February alone.

California is normally welcoming ground for a Democratic president -- and voted overwhelmingly for Obama in November -- but is suffering badly from the crisis, and pressure is building on the White House for relief.

Obama, in full, folksy campaign mode, theatrically took off his jacket and was soon riffing one-liners familiar from his election campaign.

But he also had to field heart-rending questions from people who had lost their jobs and had no prospect of finding a new one soon.

And he attempted once more to quell the fire over AIG, as Republican critics claim he and beleagured Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner should have done more to stop the firm paying bonuses after being saved by taxpayers.

"I know Washington's all in a tizzy and everybody's pointing fingers at each other and saying it's all their fault, the Democrats' fault, the Republicans' fault" Obama said.

"Listen, I'll take responsibility. I'm the president," Obama said, sparking cheers and applause. "We didn't draft these contracts. We've got a lot on our plate -- but it is appropriate when you're in charge to make sure that stuff doesn't happen like this.

"So we're going to do everything we can to fix it," he said, pivoting to one of his favorite points that episodes like the AIG affair were symptoms of the culture of greed and excess on Wall Street that caused the economic meltdown.